The Tech - Online EditionMIT's oldest and largest
newspaper & the first
newspaper published
on the web
Boston Weather: 33.0°F | Overcast

Extropians' Message Deserved a Voice

The many-sided controversy over the MIT Extropians has been raging out of control for well over a month. Most of the reaction to the Extropians' pamphlet - which was sent out in an unauthorized mailing to the freshmen a few weeks ago - has not been surprising. There are those who have objected to its contents, calling them racist, sexist, or just plain stupid, and there are those on the other side of the fence who praise the Extropians for finally speaking many of the unspoken, taboo truths about MIT and life in general.

No one can doubt that the issues the Extropians have taken on are important ones. Affirmative action, MIT's rush system, the loss of idealism and aspirations that many students here experience - these all are issues that could use a lot of open and honest debate. It is therefore all the more disturbing that administrators chose to quash the manifesto by banning it from the Association of Student Activities mailing last month. Censoring the pamphlet was unfair and unjustified.

Banning a piece of literature because its contents may be offensive is inherently arbitrary as well as dangerous. The controversy over the Extropians' this year almost certainly spells stronger scrutiny for submissions next year. Conceivably, several submissions to next year's ASA mailing might end up on the chopping block. Groups like The Thistle may also become controversial. The Thistle was, in fact, punished a few years back for a submission in the mailing that was deemed offensive by administrators after it was sent out.

Furthermore, censoring the pamphlet on the grounds that it is offensive to women and minorities - that it would hurt them because it told them that they didn't belong at MIT - is all the more outrageous. Students - even incoming freshmen - are perfectly capable of thinking for themselves. As adults, they can sort out what to believe and what to reject. Anything less than that assumption is an insult to them.

Though the administration may have wronged them in the first place, the Extropians, too, made a very big mistake when they decided to send their pamphlet against the explicit ruling by administrators. The Extropians' passion for their ideas is laudable, but a decision to fly in the face of the ruling through a surreptitious mailing can be explained only by arrogance - an attitude also borne out in the presentation of some of their arguments in their pamphlet as well as in their failed defense at their ASA hearing earlier this week. Their punishment for the deceptive mailing - no ASA recognition for at least another year - was justified.

What is needed is a clear set of guidelines for the contents of the ASA mailing. We believe that the ASA and the Dean's Office should set down a clear policy of not censoring submissions. The fact that the ASA mailing is the only opportunity activities get to communicate with freshmen before their arrival on campus makes such a rule important to ensure every activity gets a chance to tell freshmen about itself. Surely if administrators can blindly condone rush activities that allow independent living groups to call freshmen at home, invite them to summer events, and send them detailed packages about their houses, it can ensure activities an equal shot at attracting freshmen in the ASA summer mailing.